Note: The article below was written in April 2010 and at the time I had the privilege of using the free Developer Community version of Intalio, on which my later Intalio articles were based. As this Community and related source material have since been dismantled by 2016, I am in the midst of setting up an alternative open source platform based on Camunda. My adventure with Camunda will soon be revealed on this site but in the meantime please enjoy this article 🙂

Process discovery, where do we start?

I’ve started a journey to find out if we can really adapt something we do in business into a tangible ‘process’ that we can engineer, manipulate, analyse, re-engineer and destroy, if we want to. There is an industry out there that says we can so that’s what I’m researching here.  As I go on this journey I will write up the articles, but to start with it may be easier to first think back to those fun days when you played for hours with Lego kits to create all sorts of crazy wonderful things.

Source: Ana Fuji

… Before starting out your Lego project, you would already have a really good idea about what your next creation could be… and what it would do… and look like …. and how you would build it so that your sister’s Lego pieces would fit nicely into yours (once you’d persuaded her it was a good idea to let you ‘borrow’ them!).  Depending on how your brain workes, you would either start bashing those bricks together, or you might have lay out the Lego parts in front of you to think a little, or you might have drawn your design on paper first (enjoying the ‘colouring in’ bit too!), or you just might have played safe and followed some instructions from Lego’s own examples.  Whatever approach(es) you use, you used an instinctual method developed from zillions of hours of play time to get a result.

Well, the same applies to how you approach ‘creating something’ using technology: some folks just jump straight into the code or tool-sets; some like to look at models and case studies before designing anything; some like reuse components from an earlier project; some like to outsource their projects to folks in a different timezone (!); and so on.  Whatever the approach, there are recommended ‘building formulae’ to get the best results, as you’d expect in any industry.

I therefore say to you, perhaps we can learn a little from our Lego days? We played, we modelled, we re-engineered, we re-used, we thought in terms of ‘components’, we considered form and function, we collaborated, we seldom wasted anything, we learned and improved, we mentored younger Lego builders, and best of all…we enjoyed our creations to the full and the journey undertaken to achieve the result… until we came up with other great innovations, and then the process started all over again with a satisfying crash of the bricks!

So, returning to the original point of this article, when we take this short journey into the delicious soup of the building bricks used to ‘manipulate’ business processes, remember that the spirit of play and learning is all around us.  I am sharing my learning experience as I invite you to taste a selection of appetisers that just might propel you into other tasty ingredients like: visual modeling languages (e.g. BPMN), execution languages (e.g. BPEL with BPXL extensions); query languages for monitoring (e.g. BPQL); W3C standard choreography languages (e.g. WS-CDL); process meta-models (e.g. BPSM); and, web services stacks (e.g. WSDL, UDDI).  And if you’re not feeling a bit queasy after digesting all that, then I’ll proceed.

First, like all enthusiastic folks in technology you need to get yourself a nice tool to use for playing with the concepts discussed here.  When you can interact and try things out it makes life just a bit more interesting.  To cut to the chase, try Intalio|BPMS – their website includes comprehensive instructions on how to set up Intalio|Designer, and Intalio|Server [1]  if you require it.

Next, an introduction into the basics…

Whether you’re working on the supermarket checkout or crunching performance figures for the next Board meeting, you might have something to say about the ‘processes’ that surround you. Almost everyone on this planet knows that some things can be done better, quicker, cheaper, etc. and there are many ways to express it!  Swearing and rants aside, business and technology have had to start ‘talking’ to work on such improvements or transformations.  One way to achieve this is the use of  a common notation that business-minded people and technologists can both use.

Here I introduce BPMN, Business Process Management Notation[2],  but first I provide a quick view of the building blocks applied in constructing a business process – these will be covered in later articles so just cast your eyes over it very briefly!:

click on the image to enlarge the diagram

And I’ll add briefly that as with anything, decisions are a necessary part of a business process. For these we have

  • splits and joins: we use AND to execute a set of actions in parallel and to merge the results;
  • we use XOR to act as the switch to execute exactly one action from a set of actions

And for the looping actions in a process we have:

  • the while loop for a condition checked at the beginning;
  • the until loop for a condition checked at the end;
  • and the last loop for iteration, foreach

So, if you managed to get this far then you’re ready to follow the article links here, which provide a little more detail:

[1]  if you decide to install the Intalio|BPMS Server, the instructions provided are excellent except for one point: once you have downloaded the zip file containing the Intalio BPMS Server, create a new directory called intalio-bpms on the C:\ and extract all the files to this directory.  Then, you need to ensure that all subfolders such as bin, common, conf, databases, etc. … are directly under C:\intalio-bpms. On my installation, I had to move these subfolders into C:\intalio-bpms, before deleting the surplus folder intalio-bpms-  It’s a small point but important if you want the installation to be successful!
[2] I recommend the useful one-pager by the Object Management Group (OMG) for the real aficionado.
[Author’s note] I read from cover to cover Essential Business Process Modeling by Michael Havey, O’Reilly 2005. It’s a technical digest that’s gives an insight into process theory, BPM architecture, patterns, standards and workflow.  The editorial proofing could have been much better (a publisher’s issue) and for the date of the book there was still a lot of ambiguity about the direction of BPM in the industry, making the content of this book conclusively vague, over complex and in need of a second edition.  However, the concepts are there and the tools mentioned in the book gave me food for thought!

Originally published: Wednesday, April 14th, 2010 at 21:32 in Industrialism, Modeling


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